We've partnered with the mad food scientists at ChefSteps to bring their hyper-inventive cooking videos to F&W readers.
We all know the danger of overcooking vegetables—nothing's less appealing than soggy spears of broccoli, except maybe a pile of shriveled up green beans. The beauty of the microwave is that it offers a fast, fool-proof way to get your vegetables just right every time.
Essentially, microwaves cook food by producing electromagnetic waves that force polarized water molecules within it to oscillate. We experience this atomic-scale movement as increasing temperature. Think of the water molecules as antennae, interacting with the waves in the oven much like a radio antenna does with radio waves. The more water in the food, the more effective it is as an antenna. Plant foods have a high water content relative to most foods—making them very effective antennae indeed. But it's important, too, to consider the size of your antennae. A microwave is 12.8 centimeters long. To couple readily with the waves, individual pieces should be at least a quarter of that length—so about 3.2 centimeters (a little larger than one inch). A microwave will of course cook smaller bits, it will just do so less efficiently and effectively.
What's all this got to do with you and your Brussels sprouts? It basically means you can cook them—plus virtually any other vegetable—perfectly, in just a few minutes. How many minutes exactly depends on the wattage of your machine, along with the amount (and size) of food you are cooking. Through trial and error, we found we got the best results by cooking one-inch pieces of vegetables in our 1,000-watt microwave for 30–45 seconds. Experimenting with your microwave will help determine your own optimal cook times and settings.
Ready to try the technique in a finished dish? Make our version of Bagna Càuda Vegetables, a modernist spin on a classic Piedmontese appetizer.